Tuesday, 3 July 2012


I truly seek a very solitary, simple and primitive life with no special labels attached.  However there must be love in it, and not an abstract love but real love for real people.”  (Thomas Merton)

People often comment on how complicated and expensive living simply seems to be!  They look at the cost of buying land or choosing organic vegetable or travelling by horse and buggy or making one’s own clothes, and the mind boggles!  I thought it might be interesting (if it’s not just gallop on by) to look at some of the strands we weave together in this household to make complicated, simple, frugal and expensive into one organic fabric that hopefully doesn’t cost the earth.  Apologies to those of you who've been stopping by here for ages and already know all this.

Our big resource is family.  Not one of us has ever been rich, but we are very motivated towards strengthening and consolidating the wellbeing of our family – this habit can be traced back through my parents and grandparents, and has shielded us from poverty if not made us wealthy.

In our household the family way of living forms the main planet and the Badger’s life is its own moon.

The household is committed to Earth-friendly, spiritual, ethical choices.  We choose freedom and independence and prefer to walk our own path, with as little government and bank involvement as possible.  In our purchases our watchwords are: “organic, handmade, fair-traded, local, compassionate (animal and human welfare), wildlife friendly.”  We do buy stuff from big chains because our income doesn't stretch to buying all the best stuff from the best places and we don't know the techniques of dumpster-diving; but we at least are part of encouraging the big supermarkets to go on stocking organic and non-GMO and free-range products.  We try to get our clothes from suppliers who have paid at least some attention to ethical considerations - Howies, Lands End, Nomads, Vivi Barefoot, White Stuff etc.  We recognise that the ideal is to live more purely than we do, but we're not there yet, just travelling in that direction.

Because we earn our money in an eclectic mix of slightly unusual ways, working freelance and relying primarily on expressing truth in beautiful ways as a source of income, it is helpful for us to live frugally.  Our income (this is true of most freelancers) is erratic and unpredictable, so we depend on stashing money away when it does come in.  The result is that we can often afford nice things but we also have to keep an eye on the account books, if you see what I mean.  Our earnings are at the level that we can afford treats provided we have in general been extremely thrifty.  This is not difficult for some of us, as the habit goes back generations, but I am appalling at it.  Money arrives in my life freely and leaves it just as freely.  When I run out I stand down here waving my hands to attract the Lord's attention and shrieking "Help!"  And God is good; He sends me what I need.  But recently His still small voice has been gently suggesting I might like to try to live a little more moderately.  I tell Him he is my Father and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He says "Yeah, I guess so, but . . . do you think you could just try?"  So I am.  I have bought this book and am reading it with close attention.

We do not run a car, we walk or travel by public transport, our food is mostly vegetarian or vegan.  We don’t go out much, because we like being at home, and all of us require huge tracts of solitude and find social interaction tiring and alarming – even when it’s enjoyable and with people we love.

Our large expenses included: the purchase and repair of a big house to accommodate us; fitting solar panels to the roof to supply our electricity (and export it to the National Grid) and hot water.

Resourcing our lifestyle choices is not terribly complicated, but does take thought and application.  We all take time to nose out the places where we can get fair-trade vegan part-recycled shoes for our hard-to-fit feet to do serious regular walking, and sources of organic ethical and local food at the best prices.  We make a lot of our food and gifts and some of our clothes.  A lot of our large purchases – eg furniture – are second-hand (cheap), or craftsman made (always at a good price, but sometimes a significant layout of money).  This all means lavishing oodles of time on researching and checking things out.

The Badger’s life is different.  He works very hard indeed at an office-based job in Oxford which is almost exactly a hundred miles away from Hastings where our home is.  So part of every week he lives away from home, starting work early in the morning, finishing in the evening, with a forty-five-minute drive through heavy traffic between where he works and his satellite home.  This leaves neither time nor energy to do much else.  He has very frugal habits, so he just hits the superstore and buys what’s cheap – though our ethical/political/animal welfare principles make sense to him and have also modified his automatic choices.

During the week when he's not with us, he lives in a family-sized house that he got with a little capital and a lot of mortgage - but the mortgage and all outgoings are covered by the three other people who live there with him as his tenants.  You have to admire a man who, needing to live away from home half the week, has figured out a system that returns rather than requires money!  The Badger himself has a tiny bedroom there as neat as a ship's cabin - about 7ft x 7ft.  It's not a hardship to him to have this extra place away from home, because it's the only place where he can do the garden exactly as he likes - and the Badger is happiest out in the garden.  But here at home he is blown about by the Winds of Strong Opinion.   In that separate garden of his own he grows raspberries and lavender and roses and fruit trees, and a cool green lawn for summer evenings.  When he bought the house it had been inhabited by a family with two large dogs and two footballing sons, and the back yard was all concrete and astro-turf!

The Badger's heart is for the Earth and the Lord, and the blending of these two ways of life (ours and his, I mean, not the Earth’s and the Lord’s) works very well.  His choices are very savvy and thrifty.  He likes to travel and has a curiosity about the world, and his work requires him to go overseas once or twice every year; and he volunteers for a charity to go to Africa helping teach people in his same line of business but with few training opportunities. His drives a company car, but he gets to choose it, which means he has opted for a Toyota Prius which was the first and best of the hybrid-engine eco-cars.  His choice has influenced other to do the same.  

The Badger having a car means we all have weekend use of it, for a trip out to farm shops hard to access by public transport, or to take bags of things to charity shops or the dump when necessary.  We dilettante artist types are scrupulous about paying our way, but it’s reassuring to know the Badger’s steady income is coming in and being saved up – and he is generous in paying for occasional large repair bills or other necessary outlays.  But we try not to call upon his generosity or his car unduly, as this would mean our own principles were no more than a smoke-screen for Life As Normal.

We compost and recycle, re-use and repair.  We are making our garden as bee-friendly and wildlife-friendly as we can, and we water it with stored rainwater when it's dry and feed it with our own various composts and natural nitrate fixes.  Our household pets are rescue cats.  We immensely value quietness.  Sometimes you can hear people chatting quietly and laughing, or hear someone singing or playing piano/guitar – but most of the time there is silence in our house.  Except when the Badger blows his nose.  We do not like powered machines and use them as little as possible.  We have very, very few cleaning/laundry products and toiletries and are committed fans of bicarbonate of soda and cider vinegar.  But essential oils, herbs, propolis and honey are important ingredients of daily life.  We love plants, and grow and propagate them.  We prefer to avoid clutter and value space.  We like natural things – and that includes pearls and silk and silver as well as wood and stone and clay.  We believe water is a precious resource and are careful not to waste it.  We believe in truth and simplicity and vegetables.  And firelight.  And candlelight.  And garlic.  And stars.  And grace.  And the power of kindness.

Conversation is important in our house – every day are little gatherings of people mulling over together the insights and wonderings of their heart’s core.

A bus ride away is my beautiful mama who, along with my father now deceased, mostly financed the purchase of this peaceful house with its electricity from sunshine and its garden of vegetables and flowers, and the small house whose tenants' rent provides the bulk of my income.  She is part of our life too, and we do everything in our power for her happiness.

A few minutes’ walk away from our house through little streets and back-garden alleys, or past the local shops, depending which way you go, Buzz and the Wretched Wretch live with their man who is like a kind of large Ozark bear but less fierce.  He works in the admin of the National Health Service midwifery facility.  Buzz has her hands full with caring for the most active child ever born, but also finds time to run a gentle parenting group and serve on the committee for the National Childbirth Trust (her mother was a founder member of the local group) which champions the cause of natural birth and breastfeeding.  From the chaotic centre of their little house that hums with intellect and imagination they are changing the world one child at a time.  They have a small, enclosed garden full of sunshine, an exciting place with flourishing herbs and long grass where a child can have interesting adventures.  The Wretched Wretch has his own colourful playhouse out there, passed on from a friend.

A few minutes’ walk in the other direction takes us to Rosie’s and Jon’s, a tall thin house that totters up from its mossy basement roots to its chimney high in the triumphant blue.  Rosie and Jon are musicians, and their home is stocked with French horns and euphoniums, tubas and trombones and drums – and a huge, elegant, inlaid, carved, ethereal, melodious harp.  There is often also a banoffee pie in the fridge.  And cheese.  And a pot of curry on the stove.  Rosie likes nettle tea and Jon likes real ale and good wine.  They have a tiny yard which inexplicably manages to fit in composting facilities, herbs, roses, vegetables, a patio, outdoor-eating furniture, a chimenea and a small lawn.  They work all day - Rosie in the university as a receptionist and Jon in music for schools; and they work most nights and weekends too, playing in theatre orchestra pits or marching bands at civic occasions, or weddings/funerals when the harp is in demand, or in brass band competitions the length and breadth of the land.

So that's how we stitch it all together.

And there we must leave them, like animals in the hedgerow on this hill rising up from the sea, playing in the warm sunshine . . .


365 366 Day 185 – Tuesday July 3rd

Ah, this was a sari petticoat.  How beautiful saris are, how practical, graceful and feminine.  Like Plain dress, I found them to be obtrusive, snagging attention everywhere, so I didn’t keep them.  My clothes now seem to work very well, and fulfil my criteria of modesty, plainness and simplicity, but they certainly lack the elegance of saris.

365 366 Day 184 – Monday July 2nd  

An enamel soup ladle.  I had two.  One had gone into the lives of my family, and one I kept.  When we were re-united in one household, the streams of ownership blended again.  I liked this white one.  They liked the orange one.  I was outnumbered!


Daisyanon said...

"Money arrives in my life freely and leaves it just as freely. When I run out I stand down here waving my hands to attract the Lord's attention and shrieking "Help!" And God is good; He sends me what I need.

Ho, ho, this is me, all my life. But in the end it wasn't funny as I got into a huge amount of debt.

God was merciful and I did not suffer any terrible consequences. There were consequences but they were not terrible as these things can go.

Around 2008 I started to get my act together. I found this forum so helpful. http://flyladyforum.blogtalkradio.com/index.php?s=0202c7039ef7a594e6999810b16b372a&showforum=133

Also the YNAB (you need a budget) www.youneedabudget.com software is fabulous. It is remarkably cheap and it has saved me far more than it has ever cost.

Pam Young's Get Out of Debt book is good as well. http://www.makeitfunanditwillgetdone.com/products-page/tgb/the-good-book-get-out-of-debt/

So, now I am retired, I have financial peace of mind (as far as that is possible) and I too can afford nice things, treats and so on, provided I am careful and frugal and stay with my financial programme.

Thanks Ember, you have such a gift for putting things into words!

Anonymous said...

as a petticoat wearer myself, I know what you mean about the snagging :) but I do enjoy the feel of them against my skin.

When you choose to live simply, the ways to do it found you without too much ritual or worry. It is a natural flow. And it all comes from one basic goal... to live in accordance with Our Lord's standard...

Thank you so much Pen for sharing.


Ember said...

Hi friends - Daisy, thanks so much for those links, and well done for getting free of debt and creating a budget that works for you.

A source of pride and delight for me has been finding myself the mother of children who finished college with savings instead of debts - they are a constant inspiration to me!

Hi Maria - yes, I enjoy skirts too. xx

Penny said...

A lovely, peaceful, encouraging post. Thanks.

I liked the mention of garlic. Fantastic stuff for gurgling down the intestinal tract and bullying out the bugs!

You are so right about saris being beautiful. When we lived in Nepal the finest compliment I received (as an expatriate Aussie) was that I could wear a sari properly! I loved the simple beauty and femininity of the clothes I wore while living there, and miss wearing kurta suruwals etc here in Sydney. But sometimes the attention drawn isn't worth it.
I've still got one lovely red sari (and petticoat) up in my cupboard for the days I need to remind myself that I did live another life once and it was worth the effort. :)

Ember said...

:0) I can just imagine you in a red sari! x

Asta Lander said...

I really enjoyed the glimpse into how your family live simply. Thank you for sharing. Asta x

Asta Lander said...

Oh and free book for Amazon Kindle readers at the time I sent this comment - http://www.amazon.com/The-Simple-Dollar-Achieved-ebook/dp/B003HOXLHA/ref=zg_bs_154606011_35
I have no idea at all if it is a good read.

Ember said...

:0) Hello friend! Waving! x

Dianne Plourde said...

Hello! I am new to your blog. I like your thoughts and ways of living. Are you a Christian? I notice that you seem to blend asian/new age thought, with your faith in Christ, but I may be misunderstanding this! I liked your skirt and loved what you said about making it and wearing it. :o) Do you have a headcovering on? Do you believe in wearing such? Thanks you!

Ember said...

Hello Dianne :0) Good to meet you!

Yes, I am a Christian.

About headcovering - I feel very drawn to it, and used to wear a headcovering. I stopped doing it as a regular thing but still feel drawn to it. I posted about it here:

Now I'm not sure what I think about it at all. All I can say is sometimes I wear a hat or scarf and sometimes I don't. I'm not very convinced about making a religion of one's clothing, but for myself I feel more comfortable dressed modestly.